GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Manny Acta took Grady Sizemore out of the Indians' leadoff spot, and that move was viewed as a long time coming. What wasn't anticipated was Acta slotting designated hitter Travis Hafner into the leadoff spot. It happened for Wednesday's 6 1/2-inning intrasquad game at Goodyear Ballpark, and it had the man known as Pronk reassessing what he brings to the table. "I must have shown them a few things running sprints," Hafner joked. "I told [starter] Fausto [Carmona] that if he walks me, it's a triple."More
All joking aside, Pronk was just at the No. 1 spot to get a couple at-bats in and then call it a day. But the key for him this season will be getting those at-bats in on a daily basis and not having nearly as many days off in-between. Hafner, who went 0-for-3 in the intrasquad game, is now 17 months removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, and he hopes to be completely removed from what's transpired the last two seasons. The guy who once carried the load in the middle of the Tribe lineup and struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers became reduced to a sore-shouldered non-entity in 2008 and '09. Pronk prefers not to dwell on it. "I've blocked the last two years out," he said with a laugh. Lucky him, because the results weren't easy on the eyes. Hafner managed to appear in just 151 games over the last two years. He hit a combined .244 with a .752 OPS, 21 homers, 29 doubles and 73 RBIs. Even if those numbers had been rolled into a single season, they would be far below what the Indians bargained for when they signed Hafner to an enormous extension. Pronk still has three years and an option remaining on the four-year, $57 million extension he signed in the middle of the '07 season, and the Tribe has yet to see any real return on the investment. The hope -- and all hopes this time of year are at their most optimistic -- is that a full recovery from surgery will allow the 32-year-old Hafner to not only return to playing every day but also to return to his old self at the plate. And yet, even before the shoulder issue set in, there were reasonable questions posed about the direction of Pronk's performance. After he led the American League in OPS in a 2006 season cut a month short by a hand injury, Hafner's numbers took a tumble in 2007. He hit .266 after batting .308 the year before, his homer total dropped from 42 to 24 and his OPS fell from 1.097 to .837. The shoulder issue, which crept up on him in Spring Training before the '08 season and brought agony to mundane tasks like using a fork or a toothbrush, has robbed Hafner of the opportunity to prove that statistical slide was a fluke. And it has only increased the concern that the contract that ranks as the largest in club history will also go down as the biggest disappointment.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less